Anyone can make a pair of blue jeans, but Levi Strauss & Co. made the first blue jean –– in 1873. And we draw upon our heritage to continually reinvent the blue jean for generation after generation.
Yes, Levi Strauss & Co. has a unique history and an amazing heritage, but it involves much more than faded denim. Our designers use products from our past to inspire the designs of tomorrow. And not only did we invent the blue jean, our Dockers® brand reinvented the khaki pant.
Levi Strauss & Co. has been innovating since the birth of the first pair of jeans in 1873. Throughout our long history, we’ve inspired change in the marketplace, the workplace and the world. We invite you to take a look at our proud heritage in this timeline.
Levi Strauss, the inventor of the quintessential American garment, was born in Buttenheim, Bavaria on February 26, 1829 to Hirsch Strauss and his second wife, Rebecca Haas Strauss; Levi had three older brothers and three older sisters. Two years after his father succumbed to tuberculosis in 1846, Levi and his sisters emigrated to New York, where they were met by his two older brothers who owned a NYC-based wholesale dry goods business called “J. Strauss Brother & Co.” Levi soon began to learn the trade himself.
When news of the California Gold Rush made its way east, Levi journeyed to San Francisco in 1853 to make his fortune, though he wouldn’t make it panning gold. He established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and served as the West Coast representative of the family’s New York firm. Levi eventually renamed his company “Levi Strauss & Co.”
Around 1872, Levi received a letter from one of his customers, Jacob Davis, a Reno, Nevada tailor. In his letter, Davis disclosed the unique way he made pants for his customers, through the use of rivets at points of strain to make them last longer. Davis wanted to patent this new idea, but needed a business partner to get the idea off the ground. Levi was enthusiastic about the idea. The patent was granted to Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss & Company on May 20, 1873; and blue jeans were born.
Levi carried on other business pursuits during his career, as well. He became a charter member and treasurer of the San Francisco Board of Trade in 1877. He was a director of the Nevada Bank, the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Company and the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company. In 1875, Levi and two associates purchased the Mission and Pacific Woolen Mills.
He was also one of the city’s greatest philanthropists. Levi was a contributor to the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home, the Eureka Benevolent Society and the Hebrew Board of Relief. In 1897 Levi provided the funds for twenty-eight scholarships at the University of California, Berkeley, all of which are still in place today.
At the end of the 19th century, Levi was still involved in the day-to-day workings of the company. In 1890 — the year that the XX waist overall was given the lot number “501®” — Levi and his nephews officially incorporated the company.
Levi Strauss passed away on Friday, September 26th 1902. His estate amounted to nearly $6 million, the bulk of which was left to his four nephews and other family members, while donations were made to local funds and associations.
We’re proud to honor Levi Strauss’s legacy by celebrating his commitment to community, philanthropy and an unswerving devotion to quality. To this day, Levi Strauss & Co. strives to align itself with the same principles that guided Levi’s life.
The Invention of the Blue Jean
May 20, 1873 marked an historic day: the birth of the blue jean. It was on that day that Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis obtained a U.S. patent on the process of putting rivets in men’s work pants for the very first time.
Levi Strauss, a Bavarian-born dry goods merchant, came to San Francisco in 1853 at the age of 24 to open a West Coast branch of his brothers’ New York wholesale dry goods business. Over the next 20 years, he built his business into a very successful operation, making a name for himself not only as a well-respected businessman, but also as a local philanthropist. One of Levi’s customers was a tailor named Jacob Davis.
We made our first jeans out of denim - the traditional fabric for men's workwear. Within a very short time, the jean was a bona fide success.
Davis wrote to Levi to suggest that the two men hold the patent together. Levi, being an astute businessman, saw the potential for this new product, and agreed to Jacob’s proposal. The two men received patent #139,121 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on May 20, 1873.
Soon, the first riveted clothing was made and sold. We made our first jeans out of denim — the traditional fabric for men’s workwear. Within a very short time, the jean was a bona fide success. (Although, we should note that they were called “waist overalls” or “overalls” until 1960, when baby boomers adopted the name “jeans.”)
We consider May 20, 1873 the “birthday” of blue jeans, because although denim pants had been around as workwear for many years, it was the act of placing rivets in these traditional pants for the first time that created what we now call jeans.
The next time you see someone wearing a pair of Levi’s® jeans, remember that these pants are a direct descendant of that first pair made back in 1873. That year, two visionary immigrants — Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis — turned denim, thread and a little metal into what has become the most popular apparel on earth.